"We need your help to keep entertaining"

Chairman of the Grand's board Tony Stone
Chairman of the Grand's board Tony Stone
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An impassioned plea for support has been made by chiefs at Blackpool’s Grand Theatre.

Tony Stone, chairman of the Grand’s Arts and Entertainment Board, called on residents to support the Church Street theatre - reminding them it is a charity which ‘struggles and struggles, quite badly at times’.

Ruth Eastwood, Grand Theatre chief executive

Ruth Eastwood, Grand Theatre chief executive

He said: “We are a charity. That may sound obvious, but we recently asked people in a survey who owned the Grand, and only 25 per cent knew it was a charity. The rest thought it was publicly funded.”

While the theatre does receive public funding, from the Arts Council and Blackpool Council among others, Mr Stone was keen to highlight the work the venue does with the handouts.

“The Chichester Festival Theatre’s main house seats 1,000 and gets £13m in external funding. Our main house seats 750 people. We get £275,000. Nobody else nationally does the scale of productions we do with less than 1,000 seats,” he said.

Mr Stone acknowledged that the theatre has received a ‘small increase’ in its Arts Council funding going forward from 2018, but that is targeted - as all Arts Council grants are - to be spent on the Grand’s work with children, young people and the community.

The past two financial years, the theatre has received £159,992 each year from the Arts Council for its work in bringing contemporary dance to the resort.

And making his plea for more local support, Mr Stone added: “The bottom line is we have got to generate money ourselves: A, to put productions on and B, to continue helping young people with a start in life.

“What we are looking for help with is donations and legacies. We do already get these, but please keep it in mind and tell your friends.”

Mr Stone said 52 schools and 10,000 children have participated in arts projects through the Grand.

“It all builds on the health and well being and confidence of our young people. There has been comment in the media on the value of the arts and culture and its link to health and well being. We believe strongly in that and that’s why we do outreach work.”

Chief executive Ruth Eastwood said the Grand’s funding and budgeting was complex, with a combination of public funding as well as income from ticket sales, bars and refreshments.

Box office sales account for £2.1m of the theatre’s income, but from every £1 spent on tickets, just 16p comes back to the venue - the rest is paid to the touring theatre company. The rest comes from fund-raising, the the Friends Of The Grand Theatre group and sponsorship.

Mrs Eastwood stressed how important local support - through ticket sales or donations - was to the venue’s continuing work.

“Our industry is changing radically and we don’t return the same margins we used to,” she said, adding that Blackpool’s background as an entertainment destination - rather than an arts-culture one - made balancing the books even harder.

“As an independent charity, we work hard to fulfill our educational and social responsibilities: We work with schools, children and families, older people and people with additional needs,” she said. "We do this, not just to increase enjoyment and understanding of the arts, but to help improve literacy, numeracy and confidence.

“So, a ticket for the Grand Theatre it isn’t just a ticket for a great night out, it’s part of helping to put theatre at the heart of our community.”